Berlin Photo Diary- Part Two

Berlin is not only about books and films, it’s also about the music. For some it’s Bowie, for others Lou Reed, for others yet Nick Cave– I love them all, but the ultimate Berlin music for me is U2’s Achtung Baby. Their best album by far (in my humble opinion- which generally implies you’re sure as death and taxes), it reached me in my most formative years musically speaking, so taking a shot at Zoo Station was a must. Time is a train/Makes the future the past/Leaves you standing in the station/Your face pressed up against the glass.


Club Mate has always been the Berlin drink by definition to me- it’s of course made somewhere next to Munich, but that’s a side note to the story. I once saw a picture of someone in Berlin casually drink it, and, since I was a major energy drink fiend at the time, I felt an undefeatable urge to try it. By the time it finally made it to Budapest I’d given up on energy drinks, but got hooked on mate, so I obviously loved it. Berliner Pils has however never made it to Budapest, at least not that I know of, and I feel there’s a pretty good reason behind that, but not going into details is probably more gracious. I however felt that the pairing of the two empty bottles on a sunny morning in Kreuzberg was very fitting to the city’s spirit- little did I know that I gave a total fright to a very polite German vagrant, who assumed that I intended to pilfer his bottles and take them to the recycling centre. Once it became clear to him that my intentions were pure, he chilled and rattled away with a bag filled with these two, and other precious receptacles.


This the moment you look up, go, awwww, this building is so cute,  how  nicely they all colour-coordinated, and then it suddenly dawns on you that you hope to God those windows don’t open to the outside.


More amusements for a Kreuzberg morning walk, deciding whether this is the trunk of an elephant, or the tail of a dragon. I guess it’s rather the first, though I secretly wish it was the second. There was also a whiff of Terézváros wakes, or rather, doesn’t really wake up to a Saturday morning in the air, with mostly empty streets and the occasional group of people looking like vampires who’ve just realized they’re oversensitive to the sun. This was also the perfect time to raid the shelves of the original German drogeriemarkt and come to the conclusion that the bastards do keep the best stuff just for themselves. 


Now this, by all accounts, is a bloc- the block of flats, great love of Romania’s enlightened communist leader, and the sardine can in which too many people wasted away their youth and not only. You can of course make nice blocks, functional ones, maybe even beautiful ones, I have seen quite a few of those in Scandinavia- yet I still shudder at the thought of the thing. The best part about these blocks is probably that they can be graffitied without remorse- and if they’re covered in enough drawings, they might even look presentable.


Speaking of graffitis- apparently nothing is out of reach- or holy enough, for Berlin’s artists. I am a bit more confused about this one than the block of flats though- that colour on the bell towers was pretty to begin with and blended so nicely with the sky. But then again, it must have been a challenge too good to resist. 


So they’re at it again- but I couldn’t help it, the writing on the top goes ‘Freiheit’, and I found it very fitting that the bird flew into the picture. Birds are really good at that, photobombing, mostly positively, except sea-gulls, who are super evil and will first poop in your fish and chips then fly through your seascapes at the worst moment, possibly pooping. The opposite experience is waiting for a flock of birds to take off and cross the frame- they’ll never do it in the right formation, or when the light is right. Or they’ll just scamper off in the opposite direction. 


I realized I took way too many gratuitous sky shots, and decided to get rid of this one. But then I didn’t have the heart to do it. So here it goes, in case you haven’t reveled enough in it’s baby blueness: the Berlin sky.


Berlin is a great place to do a great many things, among them have specialty coffee. I had actually printed a thick list of recommended coffee shop addresses, and then naturally forgot them at the hostel on the morning I set off with dark purposes. But luck favours the silly, and just as I was approaching Checkpoint Charlie, I bumped into Westberlin. Westberlin is everything a coffee fiend desires, minimal design, niche magazines, people working on Macs. And very good coffee. Also, they mercifully provided me with a map of Berlin specialty coffee houses which I actually managed to efficiently hold on to for the next couple of days.


I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: modern tourism in it’s sight hunting, selfie snapping, tacky souvenir hoarding form gives me the severest of creeps. Travelling is great, learning from it, even greater, being the umpteenth oaf holding up the Tower of Pisa- not so much.  Berlin, at least on a not overly sunny and hot early summer weekend, wasn’t overrun with barbarians in the way Paris, Barcelona or London usually are.  Checkpoint Charlie was the one spot which was borderline crowded, and provided the questionable entertainment of two mock soldiers fingering their mobiles in between grinning for photos.


Okay, so I know, it’s easy to find fault in others but consider all your silly endeavours as staples of exemplary human behaviour. I’ll try to be fair and admit that shooting your coffee in different splendid arrangements, not unlike other half million folks on Instagram might be a tad tiring. And it’s often very misleading as well- here’s my lovely latte with a bunch of roses (also, I am late, I can’t find my keys, I have a headache and the dog the guy at the other table was instagramming drooled on my ankle.) But this time I’d just had great coffee, had no major concerns to speak of and was about to set off on a leisurely walk through Kreuzberg. Sometimes life IS almost Instagram-perfect.


There’s actually not very much to be seen in the classical touristy sense at Checkpoint Charlie- there’s the wooden shack, which had actually been replaced by the time the Wall came down plus the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, which functions as a museum and is warmly recommended by Berlin guides. I however usually shun away from rambling in museums during city breaks and plan such activities either for longer stays somewhere, or for second, third and so on visits. Berlin, maybe more than other cities, is a place where the things you have to ‘see’ first are actually the unseen, that which is not visible to the naked eye, but lies beyond the surface, in the texture of the city’s present and past. 


One aspect which becomes quickly obvious about Berlin it that it can accommodate very many different things without being dissonant and this is true for architecture as well. While some cities have a core of old buildings which make their more modern counterparts, even well-made ones, look alien and almost bothersome, you accept the same set up for Berlin without batting an eye. 


I grew up in the pretty rural bit of a small town (it used to classified as mid-sized in our geography classes, but a spot of travelling revealed that to be mere illusion of grandeur), and vegetation was the most natural part of everyday life, excuse the cheap pun. We had a garden, so did our neighbours, streets were lined with trees and bushes. After I moved for Budapest, for quite a while I would occasionally stop in my tracks when I felt something odd in my environment, and very often, it was on streets which completely lacked vegetation. It took me some time to realize it though- luckily my own neighbourhood was rather leafy, but up to this day I bear an irrational grudge on ‘dead streets’.  Streets with trees are great, and streets with grass on rooftops, even better.


I found this mural only because I took a wrong turn- well, as wrong as a turn during an aimless walk can get. I was in that pleasant state of contentment you have when you think you’ve figured out the map and then you confidently turn onto a street, only to discover it’s a totally different one, with a different name, possible from a different dimension of existence.  But this is a pretty intriguing piece of street art, and in the end I actually made it to where I’d set out to, so all in all the mission can be called a success. 


So I conducted an intensive Internet research to find more info about this series of red and blue graffitis I bumped into here and there, and found nothing conclusive. Which plunged me into a state of deep irritation, as these days we take it for granted that the web has an answer for everything. So much of the world is at our fingertips but we’ll still be most intrigued by that which we cannot reach. (In case anyone knows something about them, do let me know.)


Every now and then I look at one of my shots and get inspired to give it a fanciful, small Dutch master inspired title. Young Couple with Toilet Seat, Kreuzberg, Berlin, 2016.


I already mentioned the specialty coffee shop list I picked up in Westberlin- well, I obviously found DreiKaffeebar without it, for the simple reason that at that very time I was not looking for a coffee shop. It was however very fortunate that I did, because I could test the output of the Nürnberg based Machhörndl roastery and it is quite excellent plus I could also indulge in trying to correctly place the accent on German words, so they sound real. It’s quite intriguing (and often disheartening) to observe how a foreign word, although technically correctly pronounced, will not be understood by natives if the accent is out of place- and of course, more than often, it’s the accent that’s out of place when you speak another language. I’m still no expert in confidently pronouncing Machhörndl, but after a few bottles of Berliner Berg Pale Ale, also to be found at Drei, I might just be.


Told you much of Berlin is hidden, now this is confirmed in Spanish as well.  My Internet search has been more successful this time, and I discovered several older pictures of this particular place, which show the evolution of the door from a simple blue something to its present graffiti covered state.


In one of those fortunate coincidences I happened to bump into a Berlin themed article these days, where I found the very well founded observation that ‘Berlin is a paradigm for an increasing approximation of cultures’-and being an open city doesn’t stop it from being very much itself, which is the great fear of those who assume that welcoming others means losing yourself. If such things dangerously derail your identity, then it probably wasn’t the soundest to begin with. 


Northern people have a slightly different view of what is to be considered heat- temperatures which for us, those living in the parts of Europe which become positively tropical in summer, are to be considered pleasant, are often branded as unbearable scorches. Though, as mentioned previously, they are pretty naturally less afraid of rain and a bit of a chill. It’s just that the threshold is different, I guess.  People might object to Berlin being branded North, actually, but I am the minute version of those geocentric dumbarses who sent poor Galilei to his untimely end: the centre of all experience is to be found in Western Romania, you’re to the North of that, you’re a polar bear, to the south, a camel or something.


It’s like two birds (ducks? chicken? pigeons?) equipped like Raoul Duke and Dr Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and one of them has a hat with a pocket and two mushrooms in it. What’s not to love here?!


This one is next to the above chicken, and somewhat more ideologically charged. It would have actually been totally exciting to have the chickens holding the flag as well. Just saying.


Friday afternoons are by all means the best part of the week- they’re idle, full of promise, a beginning which has not yet fully begun. This should of course only apply when you’re working on Monday to Friday schedule, but I nevertheless feel a strange attraction to Friday afternoons even when on holiday, and liked them more than other bits of the week even during college years, when technically any time was just time to be in the cafeteria instead of class.


I take odd pleasure in photographing people who unwittingly perfectly fit their environment. It’s like a small moment when a fraction of the universe aligns in a special, fleeting way.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Will Tanner says:

    Awesome! I love Berlin and you captured the photos and details wonderfully!


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